Taking the kids to Jacksonville, Florida? Do it All TravelingMom Lisa O’Driscoll gives you the lowdown on the city’s 5 best family-friendly attractions. Although known for its world-class beach, Jacksonville has other family friendly things to do. Pet a stingray. Practice your golf swing. Make yummy sweet treats. Read on for insider tips and, if you’ve got limited time, the things you won’t want to miss during your visit.
Who’s afraid of stingrays? Not my 4-year old! While my older daughter Ashling approached the Stingray Bay exhibit at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens with caution, sister Keira greeted the predators as if they were pre-school buddies. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I can’t decide! The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is one of my 5 favorite family-friendly things to do in Jacksonville, a hidden gem on Florida’s northeast coast.
Visit Exotic Animals at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
My family’s favorite attraction during our trip was the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Although it’s large (110 acres!), it was organized into different lands that made it easy to explore. We were amazed at how up close and personal we were able to get with the tigers as the zookeepers trained them. Spotting baby giraffes as we took the train around the zoo was another treat. While my girls loved the giraffe babies, watching the baby gorillas play was their favorite part of the day!
We stopped by Stingray Bay, another zoo exhibit, for an interactive stingray experience. It took a few minutes for Ashling, my nine-year-old, to warm up to the stingrays, but Keira reached right in to meet them. At four-years-old, she has no fear and I’m still deciding if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
TravelingMom Tip: Since the zoo is so large, I’d recommend a stroller for younger children. My 4-year-old wouldn’t have lasted long if we hadn’t brought ours. Older kids should be fine though.
Walk with Dinosaurs at the Museum Of Science And History (MOSH)
The Museum of Science And History was another must-see and a popular one of the things to do in Jacksonville, with numerous exhibits to please both kids and adults alike. My girls loved the giant dinosaur and the excitement of seeing it set the tone for the rest of our museum tour.
I loved my girl’s reactions to the 50’s style retro house. They thought it looked “weird” and couldn’t believe there was no flat screen, computer, or microwave. I didn’t dare tell them that Netflix didn’t exist back then either.
The great part about the MOSH was that my husband and I enjoyed it as much as the kids. It was a perfect way to spend an afternoon.
Take a Candy Making Class at Sweet Pete’s Candy Shop
Keira and I heard the word candy, and we were immediately on board! Sweet Pete’s Candy Shop in downtown Jacksonville is amazing! Full of whimsical decor, the smell of chocolate wafting through the air made it even more inviting.
Sweet Pete’s also offers candy-making classes several days a week. We were lucky enough to join one being taught by Sweet Pete himself. He shared a little about the history of Sweet Pete’s, then explained the candy making process while mixing together a big batch of candy for our lollipops.
The girls had a lot of fun stretching the gooey candy before swirling it into lollipops. Later we even designed our own candy bars, though Keira’s gummy bear creation was a bit over the top, even for me.
Hit a Few Rounds at Top Golf
My idea of golf is usually confined to putt-putt, but we had a lot of fun at Top Golf. It’s a sophisticated version of a driving range where you aim your ball at one of the giant holes and an electronic chip inside keeps track of your points.
The girls had no idea what they were doing but didn’t care…they were having the time of their lives. Keira whirled around so much with every swing that I was worried she’d whirl right off the side (though she was perfectly safe).
My hubby had more fun than any of us because he loves golf but rarely has time to play. He was happy to discover that despite not playing for awhile, he still had it!
The best part for me was sitting back with some food and drink and relaxing while the family played. I was pleasantly surprised by the food. They had a decent selection to choose from and everything we tried was delicious.
TravelingMom Tip: The prices are a little high at Top Golf, so if you’re on a budget, you may want to skip this one.
Take in the Art at the Cummer Museum and Gardens
I was looking forward to viewing the extensive art collection at The Cummer Museum. With over 5,000 pieces in their permanent collection, this is a popular attraction and one of the things to do in Jacksonville that I recommend.
While I love museums, the girls started to get bored after 15 minutes. Fortunately, the Cummer Museum has an interactive kids area where they could have fun and play. Jon and I took turns walking through the museum while the other watched the girls. There were plenty of things for both girls to do and the virtual painting wall was by far the favorite.
TravelingMom Tip: While the girls were perfectly entertained in the kid’s area, they had no interest in seeing the actual museum. The Cummer was great but Jon and I would have enjoyed it more if it had been just the two of us.
Things to Do in Jacksonville
We squeezed a lot into two fun-filled days. If you’ve got limited time (or energy!), I’d suggest spending more time at fewer attractions. A good two-day itinerary would include a day at the zoo and another day visiting the MOSH and making candy at Sweet Pete’s Candy Shop.
There are so many things to do in Jacksonville, Florida, and we made some great memories. I loved watching Keira bond with her big sister at the MOSH and we all had fun making candy together. Now that we know what a great vacation spot it is, we may just have to go back again sometime.